Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Did Lee Kuan Yew want Singapore ejected from Malaysia?

M.G.G.Pillai
pillai@streamyx.com

IT IS FORTY YEARS SINCE Singapore was ejected from Malaysia, on 9 August 1965, less than two years after it was formed on 16 September 1963; though in Malaysia the date is August 31, and the publication two months ago of the late Patrick Keith's book, Ousted.

We have different opinions on the affair. We are told, officially and in the history books, that it was a cordial affair. The Star repeats that canard. It was anything but cordial. The two prime ministers - Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore - though both from Cambridge, did not get along. The Tunku, 62 at the time, believed in nature and Mr Lee, then 43, in nurture. Mr Lee upped the ante throughout, let people who were opposed to separation lead the negotiations, did not read the signals from Kuala Lumpur as he would now at 80.

The talks were bound to fail. The Peoples' Action Party saw itself as replacing the Malaysian Chinese Association in the Alliance, as the National Front was known at that time. The main Singapore negotiators, which included the then culture minister and later deputy prime minister, Mr S. Rajaratnam, did not want to leave Malaysia. Neither did Mr Devan Nair, the PAP MP for Bangsar, later President of Singapore and now living in exile in Canada. Whatever the history books might say, the fact is the Tunku took the decision while recuperating for shingles in a London clinic.

It took Mr Lee and his cabinet by surprise when Tun Razak, then Malaysian deputy prime minister, informed Mr Lee about it. There were furious negotiations between Malaysia and Singapore in the run up to the negotiations. The then Singapore deputy prime minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye, wrote to the Tunku and saw him, but he was told Singapore could stay if Mr Lee was out of the picture. Dr Toh's decline in Singapore politics began then in independent Singapore.

Mr Lee was brash then. He saw the PAP as the premier Chinese party in Malaysia and Singapore, which of course the Tunku did not agree. Mr Lee was emboldened by the 1964 general elections, when crowds from what is now Suleiman Court to the area surrounding Selangor Club turned up to hear him although PAP was returned in only one constituency, Bangsar. But there was the implied understanding that the PAP would remain in Singapore. The PAP broke that. It was downhill after that, which culminated in Singapore's expulsion two years later.

Mr Lee's message was not acceptable to UMNO at that time, nor is it now though it is much modified, and the assistant minister for information, Syed Jaafar Albar, the father of the Malaysian foreign minister and who did not want Singapore out although he resisted Singapore in Malaysia. On Singapore's independence, the PAP became the DAP and Mr Lim Kit Siang, Mr Devan Nair's assistant at that time, tool over. Mr Nair returned to Singapore in the 1969 general elections. Mr Lee did not want Singapore ejected from Malaysia, but when that was inevitable, he brought Singapore to what it is today: an efficient island republic but its people are brash, arrogant.

But this will last only so long as it gets its water from Johore. I happen to think Singapore will eventually have to merge with Malaysia, but as an adjunct of Johore. Patrick Keith's book is correct from his perspective as a senior information official of the Malaysian foreign ministry, but he wrote it from an official point of view. He knew the Tunku well, but he did not know what transpired behind his back. But it is important for an official point of view that contradicts the official history. There are other official accounts waiting to be written from the perspective of officials.

The history of Singapore's ejection from Malaysia is not as simple as it is made out in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur; as it should be. But we are not interested in the past but the UMNO version of the day. We are now worrying over an UMNO MP's description of the Indian as "keling". But more than 30 years ago, the man who was to become Malaysia's deputy prime minister was convicted for using that word. Much of Malaysia's written history, particularly the Tunku's papers in government (which is how I know of the details, recovered from the wastepaper basket at a time when the Tunku was to be decried at any cost, and is now in the National Archives). We have to read the politician's account to find out what happened. Mr Lee's account, in the first part of his autobiography, is the first politician's account of the ejection, but it is from his perspective.

No Malaysian politician has written his story (in English). Most are restrained by the official history, and I hear personal stories about the time, some important and some self-serving but nevertheless important. But they are a dying breed. The Malaysian politician who was one at the time of ejection is now in his late seventies or older. But he has not written his memoirs, although he has much to say. Once retired, the politician is forgotten and consigned to the political dustbin. Tun Mahathir does not see it that way. He is active in politics, though he resigned from office two years ago. But he has no plans yet to write his memoirs, which he should. He was elected in 1964, was against Singapore coming into Malaysia, was regarded as an ultra in Singapore, and against Singapore leaving, one of whom Mr Lee called the "ultras".

So we are left with the official history written with UMNO help and with no official papers of retired politicians. This is so with the history of Singapore's ejection from Malaysia. The University Kebangsan Malaysia has a "Scholar in Residence" programme, by which prominent Malaysians are invited to write their history of the country, or aspects of it. Tun Ghazali Shafie has written his memoirs on the formation of Malaysia in Malay, which is now being translated into English. This scheme allows aging Malays in Malaysia and Singapore to write their memoirs.

But the money is why they write it. A Singapore journalist told me, when I asked him why he had not written his memoirs, that it is a matter of economics: he would get more writing his journalistic pieces than he would writing his memoirs. The same rationale holds in Malaysia. But it enables the future historian to write sensibly of the events of the present time. Now we know of only different accounts by foreign historians and political scientists. It is also true that the foreigner gets an interview easier than the local. It is depicted in the ads. There is in "Deeparaya" until there is a Caucasian present if we believe the advertisements we see on television by government agencies or companies.

The non-Malay perception in Malaysia is different from the Malay. The Malay is the ruling power and non-Malay not. The perceptions therefore differ, for each carry with them his respective historical baggage. That is changing now. The country is divided between the rulers and the ruled. Many Malaysians - me, for instance, and I am 66 though I can remember Malay ruled by the British - know only the coalition controlled by UMNO, first the Alliance and then the National Front, and the history they learnt in school is what UMNO tells them the history of Malaysia.

With the press controlled by the National Front, the Star has whitewashed the ejection of Singapore by Malaysia. They have not explained why Singapore was ejected; only it was peaceful. But it was anything but. I was reporter with Reuters in Singapore though at the time of its ejection, I was in Trivandrum and it was my cousin, a professor of history then at the University of Kerala, who told me of it. I had seen it coming and could talk intelligently of the break. My view then and today is that the ejection of Singapore was preceded by often vociferous exchange of words and Mr Lee did not want the break. But history in Singapore and Malaysia says otherwise.

10 Comments:

cendolabc said...

Lee Kuan Yew did not want S'pore to leave M'sia because he has no confidence to go it alone. S is surrounded by states hostile to S and they do not even have water for survival. UMNO leaders like Razak, Mahathir and Syed Jaffar Albar were hostile to Lee and his company. They threatened Lee with bloodshed; if S chooses not to leave peacefully, there will be no peace.Lee has no choice. S was in fact kicked out. Tunku wrote a nice letter to Toh Chin Chye (deputy PM of S'pore, Chairman of PAP)about M'sia's decision in an undated letter on 7 august 1965.Lee asked Toh to reply the following day, with a comment that " it has come as a blow to us that the peace and security of malaysia can only be secured by the expulsion of s'pore from m'sia..."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 3:15:45 PM  
Old Fart said...

What was the motivation? What was it that the UMNO leaders were confident of? Or was it that it was fear that drove them to expel Singapore?

It was a very immature Malaysia that went to the polls in 1964. I do not know how many seats PAP had contested in the Peninsula and/or Sabah and Sarawak. They only won one. MCA was decidedly with UMNO in the Alliance. The Alliance obviously was very successful in projecting itself as the "government" and anyone else as "the opposition" whose role was to oppose and not to rule. Oh well, they could possibly rule Singapore, thats isolated and its all almost Chinese anyway.

MCA leaders were in the fight for their lives. If they were ousted in their seats by a major PAP victory, they would lose all claims to be the Chinese power broker and the rewards that gives them.

In everything that we read of that time, we hardly read of the role MCA played in getting rid of PAP. Who really gained in Malaysia with PAP gone? How and what was it that MCA benefitted from Singapore's departure? After all even if PAP had indeed made subsequent gains in the parliamentary seats in the rest of Malaysia and UMNO had to inevitably admit that a coalition with the PAP is inevitable, beyond the ketuanan Melayu that they now seem so proud to have a claim to, what is it really that they would have lost out in?

Would not an Alliance with PAP in it together with MCA have proved more beneficial for everyone? Unless of course there is the suspicion that with a stronger Chinese presence the Malays would have lost out? If that is a concern, my only question would be, have not the Malays still lost out? Indeed it is only the UMNOputras who seem to have gained.

Indeed I think the 1964 elections were crucial in setting in place what followed. Did Lee Kuan Yew see himself in an opposition role all his life or did he see a leadership role in the administration and governance of the greater Malaysia?

Were the UMNO leaders were as bigoted then as they are today that there was always going to be suspicion about the Chinese or the non-Malay agenda? Had there been a collaboration of sorts, could there have been the possibility that we could now have indeed had a nation made up of Malaysians rather than Malays, Indians and Chinese?

Even without a NEP, could we have all had a bigger growth in our wealth and economy that was much more evenly and widely spread than it is today? Some food for thought!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 4:25:53 PM  
johnleemk said...

I believe UMNO's leaders then thought they could keep the more radical wing of the party in check. That's why they rejected Dato' Onn's proposal for a multi-racial party. They felt Malays were not ready for such a radical change, and that when the time came, they could easily turn things around. Then, things started falling apart. The middle-of-the-road approach did not receive much approval from the Malays, resulting in the 1969 riots. The government then had to take a more hardline stance, with Tun Abdul Razak's NEP. Still, to the very end, the Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn were clearly of the moderate kind. Unfortunately, they allowed power to pass into the hands of the radicals, with Mahathir at the helm. And then...it all went downhill from there.

Speaking of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP, however, I love this speech he made in the Malaysian Parliament in 1965:
How does the Malay in the kampong find his way out into this modernised civil society? By becoming servants of the 0.3 per cent who would have the money to hire them to clean their shoe, open their motorcar doors? ... Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? How does telling a Malay bus driver that he should support the party of his Malay director (UMNO) and the Chinese bus conductor to join another party of his Chinese director (MCA) - how does that improve the standards of the Malay bus driver and the Chinese bus conductor who are both workers in the same company?

If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up? You let people in the kampongs believe that they are poor because we don't speak Malay, because the government does not write in Malay, so he expects a miracle to take place in 1967 (the year Malay would become the national and sole official language). The moment we all start speaking Malay, he is going to have an uplift in the standard of living, and if doesn't happen, what happens then?

Meanwhile, whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indian and others opposing Malay rights. They don't oppose Malay rights. They, the Malay, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn't it? Not to feed them with this obscurantist doctrine that all they have got to do is to get Malay rights for the few special Malays and their problem has been resolved.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 6:51:03 PM  
Old Fart said...

Johnleemk

How insightful and predictive that speech of Lee Kuan Yew's was well before 1967 and the introduction of NEP.

The validity of that hypothesis of his at that time, which is all that it was, has been more than proven now over 30 years after the very actions Lee spoke against. I should say, that this is the first time I have come across this speech and its predictive nature of how and what affirmative action will do for teh target community at large.

I think this is one speech that deserves a place for special study and discourse and everyone be made aware of what Lee had said all so many years ago. Indeed the UMNOputras who have certainly no inkling of this speech today, should be confronted with this speech and be made to respond to it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005 11:32:21 AM  
johnleemk said...

More of Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament 40 years ago:
They (the Malay extremists) have triggered off something basic and fundamental. Malaysia - to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and the next contest, if this goes on, will be on very different lines.

Once emotions are set in motion, and men pitted against men along these unspoken lines, you will have the kind of warfare that will split the nation from top to bottom and undo Malaysia. Everybody knows it. I don't have to say it. It is the unspoken word!

Sunday, November 06, 2005 10:23:52 PM  
Mushroom Universe said...

Time cannot be turn back.What had happened will remain as it is "as histories".

Malays,Chinese,Indians and other races are a better race now then it was during that time.Many of us does refer to ourselves as Malaysian nowdays.

Let Singapore enjoy their rapid development in their country economy, Malaysia will be there eventually with all Malaysians enjoying our country turn to become the next "Superpower of South East Asian".

Reconsider Singapore back into Malaysia should not be an option as it is not practical to do it now.Let things go as it is..Malaysia for Malaysian & Singapore for Singaporeans.All the best to our neighbouring country.

Monday, November 14, 2005 12:34:33 PM  
observer said...

It is not a wonder why u name urself Mushroom University. U will never see the sun cos you are living in the shadows. Ur country is regressing and u think it is prospering. Countries that were behind us 10 years ago are now ahead of us while we are slipping in every international competitive survey that counts. Let history be a lesson and correct the weaknesses, do not dimiss it as u did and wish, pray or hope for the best it does'nt work that way.

Monday, November 14, 2005 3:14:10 PM  
Mushroom Universe said...

well..it's my personal opinion and as a Malaysian,i'm entittle to give my opinion,you don't have to agree or disagree.Malaysian economy is going to improve,if you read or saw the latest budget2006 then you can see in which area our government is focusing our country growth on.And my nick name is MushroomUniverse,it's universe..not university.Observe properly before u make comments "observer".

Monday, November 14, 2005 5:36:54 PM  
observer said...

As you put it, as a Malaysian I'm entitled to my opinion and is just expressing it, whether it agrees or disagree with your view is secondary. Similarly, whether it's university or universe is irrelevent, I'm picking on the word Mushroom. On second tought, universe just empahsize the extend of darkness u are engulf in ie Universal Darkness.
Budget 2006, has nothing in store for the average man in the street, while many govt policies are so poorly implemented resulting in hugh loses at the expense of the public - negotiated tenders, non disclosure of Petronas accounts, non recovery of govt and bank loans be it for students or businesses are just few to start with.
I hate to admit that our smaller neighbour with zero natural resources is doing much better then us in every front, but to acknowledge our weaknesses and rectify our shortcomings instead of going on with "business as usual" is the least we can do to move forward.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 12:31:49 PM  
flowerr said...

This post has been removed by the author.

Friday, March 10, 2006 11:16:28 PM  

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